It doesn’t take long. Just login to a public match of your favorite online game and wait; for some reason, first person shooters yield the most vivid results. Chances are it will take less than a minute before you hear a string of racial slurs and homophobic remarks. And that’s before the game even starts. Then there’s the idiots who feel it necessary to shoot their teammates in the back. Oh, and let’s not forget the sporting spawn campers! Needless to say, online gaming (in its current state) is not for everyone…and that’s a big problem for both gamers and developers.
Earlier this month, Microsoft’s Bill Fulton posted a brilliant article on Gamasutra entitled, Fixing Online Gaming Idiocy: A Psychological Approach. In the article Fulton explains how unbridled hooliganism is crippling sales and stagnating community growth of several online games. He also uses an analogy so spot-on that I can’t help but share it:
…imagine you go to a new restaurant, and decide to try the meatloaf. A big guy at the next table overhears you, looks at you, and yells: “Meatloaf? What kinda newb are you? Hey everybody, this r-tard just ordered the meatloaf!
God, I’m glad you’re not at my table.” Laughter breaks out at the tables around you, as they crane their heads to look at the newb. The restaurant staff is nowhere to be found, and you’re not entirely certain they’d do anything anyway — you can tell this is normal behavior at this place. How good or cheap would the food have to be to get you to go back there? Who would you bring there? The vast majority of the world population wouldn’t go back there, and would warn everyone they knew to avoid it.
Yeah, I’ve ordered the meatloaf. Try using the M16 in Call of Duty 4 or scoring a kill with a grenade launcher (AKA Noob Tube) in Battlefield 2. But really, how do I convince a novice gamer to step into such a hostile and toxic social environment? That was one of my challenges when working on our recent Rainbow Six Vegas 2: Multiplayer eGuide. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. In his article, Fulton goes on to describe the roots of the problem as well as some possible solutions, including examples from his work on Shadowrun’s “social design” system. But developers are only beginning to tackle this issue, and no matter how effective their solutions are, they can’t completely eliminate the presence of online jerks. But that doesn’t mean we should forfeit our virtual playgrounds.
I feel the best solution (for now) is to take charge and build our own exclusive communities through the formation of clans, guilds, and gamer unions. I recently joined such a group of 20+ year-old gamers tired of the adolescent-fueled anarchy plaguing many Xbox Live shooters. We’re not ultra-competitive types looking to go pro either. We just want to have fun, and isn’t that what it’s all about?